Living the small life
December 15, 2005
BRECKENRIDGE – Tuesday morning, Brodey Ewing was napping quietly in the corner of the Chipmunk Room in the Little Red Schoolhouse, but school director Jill Malay promised he was the one. On certain days, when the timing’s right, the 1-year-old walks to the door of the room, raises his hand to the knob and slowly twists it open. Then he waves at his teacher with triumph in his eyes.”Bye-bye!” he calls, stepping free of the room with a string of 1-year-olds following behind. “Bye-bye!””It’s the slowest prison break you’ve ever seen!” Malay whispers, looking fondly over at the sleeping instigator. “We let it happen.”The reason they let it happen, Malay explains after the door is closed, is two-fold. On the one hand, Brodey and his band of co-conspirators represent one more of those adorable moments that fill the day at the Little Red Schoolhouse, moments that can’t help but make you smile at the innocence and ingenuity of children.On the other hand, the teachers let it happen because Brodey’s drive toward freedom, oddly enough, epitomizes the school’s approach to child-rearing.
The Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge has provided daycare and preschooling for Summit County youth for nearly 20 years. Although the schoolhouse moved in March to a new location near the Wellington Neighborhood, the idea of the school is still the same, what Malay calls “a child’s house.” Here, the windows are stretched low to the floor, the chairs are dwarfed down to toddler size and the walls are covered with tantalizing toys: block games, picture books, lunch boxes.As Brodey’s prison breaks reveal, this is a miniature world where kids feel a certain sense of entitlement to the objects and spaces around them. They are encouraged to discover life here for themselves, to “teach me to teach myself,” as Malay put it. And as they do, they are unknowingly learning rudimentary skills like pre-writing and pre-math.”Everything moves concrete to abstract, which is left to right, which is flowing just like we read,” Malay explained, holding a set of cylindrical weights that could only be lifted with the pincer grasp (the proper finger technique for writing). “Without the kids even knowing it, they play, but in playing everything has a purpose.”Of course, everything at the Little Red Schoolhouse isn’t a study in harmony. The school works with children who range in age from 8 weeks to 5 years, and the kids (all 77 of them) are often just as rambunctious and sniveling as you’d expect of most young ones. It’s teachers like Jay Debaggis who keep the school’s cheerfulness alive and well.”All these kids are the future of the community and the planet,” Debaggis said, flaunting his “major-league fun slippers” that look like big, yellow monsters strapped to his feet. “That’s my middle name: major-league fun. That’s why I’m here.”And in return, that’s why so many parents want their children at the Little Red Schoolhouse. The wait list for the school is more than 18 months, and it’s not atypical for parents to be awaiting enrollment for their child before he or she has been born.
Parent Niki Vincze said the wait is well worth it, adding that she appreciates every part of the care her daughter, PK, receives at the school, from the weekly readings by “Grandpa Tom” to the forays into the vegetable gardens outside (at least during summer).”It’s the same as the new hospital (St. Anthony Summit Medical Center),” Vincze said. “The facility is awesome, but it’s the people who make it.”Vincze and other parents at the school pay $38 per day if their children are preschoolers, and $42 per day if they are infants or toddlers. While introducing money into such an idyllic setting may seem a touch out-of-place, it’s something Malay has to think about almost every day in operating her nonprofit.”We’re just getting by,” she said. “We can’t raise our tuition. Where we are right now is just reachable for our parents.”So the school relies on grants and fundraisers such as the Summit Daily News Holiday Fund. Ninety-eight percent of the $40,000 the organization tries to raise each year covers the costs for employees and their benefits (20 of 28 teachers have full health benefits). Last year the money from the Holiday Fund went toward the new schoolhouse, and this year Malay would like to direct the resources toward a new loft in the “Snowbunnies” room … or toward a new set of cabinets.”We could really use that,” Malay joked as she peered into a cramped closet. Then she moved back toward the front desk and cast her Christmas wants aside.
“We’re very lucky,” she said. “We’ve had great kids, great teachers, great parents. I don’t know how we get so lucky, but I hope it continues.”Andrew Tolve can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13629, or at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Little Red Schoolhouse is among the recipients selected by Summit Daily News publisher Jim Morgan to benefit from the newspaper’s Holiday Fund. The paper is publishing a series of stories about several of the agencies that will receive funds during the next month.The fund was established by former publisher Mike Bennett, who chose the holiday season because that’s when agencies are typically the hardest hit by requests.Donations will be accepted through Dec. 31. Individuals or organizations can send a check to Holiday Fund, Summit Daily News, P.O. Box 329, Frisco, CO 80443. Donations can be made in person at the newspaper at 40 W. Main St., in Frisco. Donors can specify if they want the donation to go to a particular agency. Morgan said he is glad to entertain requests from other nonprofit agencies that benefit children and families.